A solid block of Florida’s voters deserve tremendous credit for agreeing with a bipartisan coalition of solar energy proponents to defeat an energy-backed constitutional amendment to actually thwart the growth of rooftop solar. Now, instead of trying to hurdle high barriers to the installation of energy panels, Florida property owners can continue down the sensible path already cleared by state statute. And a promising bid to improve that economic development and green energy landscape could come before those savvy voters in the midterm election in another referendum on a constitutional amendment.
The state’s utility industry gambled some $22 million in profits — paid by you, the electrical consumer — that they could hoodwink gullible voters into believing the environmentally friendly title of their Trojan horse would carry the day. Amendment 1’s title, “Rights of Electricity Consumers Regarding Solar Energy Choice,” was anything but consumer rights and totally about safeguarding utility profits by enshrining language into the Constitution deeply unfavorable to consumers. The measure lost with just 51 percent passage, well short of the 60 percent required.
The political mambo-jumbo in the referendum’s language, written to be confusing, opened the door to utility charges against solar-power properties for covering some of the costs of connecting to the power grid — thereby subsidizing the costs of backup power and grid access paid by consumers without solar power.
Had that amendment passed, the growth of solar power would have been suffocated by higher installation and operational costs. One of the bedrocks of American business would have been abridged — honest competition in an open marketplace. This would have been thwarted by monopoly-owned businesses intent on protecting their profit machines.
This all comes on the eve of a major resurgence in the solar power industry as installation prices are expected to plunge over the next five years, which could finally push the Sunshine state into a national leader in rooftop solar electricity. This month the Florida Solar Energy Industry Association projected falling installation costs would propel electrical capacity by 19 times the amount achieved over the past five years as homeowners, businesses and even utilities enjoy the advantages of falling expenses.
Credit is due to Florida Power & Light for its aggressive expansion into solar power, even if the behemoth utility helped bankroll Amendment 1. In that regard, self-interest is only natural — the fault being the deception in the campaign, as evidenced by the admission by one leading strategist that the drive was indeed driven by duplicity. All that matters not now.
(Still, the company deserves full recognition: FPL, the primary power source in Manatee County, does indeed hold a strong record of wise investments and customer service as well as low consumer bills, and the utility is a major player in solar energy production nationally — the massive array in Parrish evidence of that.)
Floridians have rightfully wondered for years why northern states have outpaced this southern paradise in solar production. That should change soon. While Florida ranks third nationally in the potential for rooftop solar production, the truth is the state lags behind in actual generation — 14th for cumulative capacity installed, according to the Florida Solar Energy Industry Association.
We have a long way to go. Amendment 1 would have slowed progress. Instead, Florida utilities should be encouraging rapid growth of rooftop solar. One day that could spare the expense of building more power plants. Today, solar only produces a fraction of the state’s energy needs produced by utilities.
The price of installing rooftop solar photovoltaic systems has fallen by at least 12 percent in just the last year, adding to the overall total drop of 66 percent since 2010, according to the independent Energy Information Institute. Those costs are expected to continue the downward trend — despite utilities strategies to counter the movement.
Florida should one day achieve its natural leadership role in the development of solar energy. The defeat of Amendment 1 shows voter savvy over that future.